Author Topic: Zazen technique question  (Read 2619 times)

Offline ShaggydogF71

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Zazen technique question
« on: March 22, 2016, 06:18:39 am »
Hi everyone, I'm a new guy here and I've got some questions about Zazen practice and techniques that I hope you can help me with. But first I'd just like to give you a little background on my practice.

I've started beginning to practice Zen about a year ago and what I know of it is just through reading books and practicing on my own. I haven't connected with a Sangha or meditation group as yet mainly because I have a real problem with anxiety attacks in group settings and trying to find a way to overcome this anxiety was what actually led me to meditation and Buddhism in the first place. I did try going to a (non Zen) meditation class before but I had a bad anxiety attack (from which I actually blacked out) and it scared me off going again.

Anyway my Zazen practice has just been from what I've read in books (such as Zen Mind, Beginner Mind, and The a miracle Of Mindfulness and general meditation books) as well as watching some institutional videos online. I tend to practice Zazen for shorter periods such as 15-25 minutes, I thought it would be best to focus on quality of practice rather than the increasing the length of time and just sitting there waiting for it to end, so I've been trying to lock down a 'good' 15 minutes but I just want to check a couple of things concerning technique.

I hope this doesn't sound silly but what is the best way to count one's breath during Zazen? Do you count upon completion of each in and out breath, if so is it done during the small pause? Or do you instead count whilst you are still breathing in or out (ie say each number slowly in your mind during the duration of the breath)? Or does it simply not matter either way?

Also is it best to count from 1-10 consecutively with each breath, or can a 1-1, 2-2, 3-3 etc count with each in and out breath work better?

And finally what is the best way to deal with a thought that arises during zazen? Sometimes (well actually pretty often) a thought such as a memory of a place or event will arise and instead of being instantly able to acknowledge it and let it go I have to think for a moment to recall it's name in order to name it and let it go. How do you acknowledge a thought when you can't instantly think of what it is? Do you take a moment to figure it's name and getting attached to that thought or do you just let it go as 'Not able to name it'? And once you have a thought like this do you carry on with your count if you hadn't stopped counting or do you always start back at 1 again? I find that I don't often loose track of my count but I do very often get other thoughts arising whilst I am counting, I think I've become better at counting at the expense of acknowledging and clearing thoughts.

I know this is a lot of questions (and I also know that I shouldn't be grasping for anything during Zazen, nor seeing it as 'good' or 'bad') but I hope that you guys can offer me a little advice to help set me on my way to a better practice.

Offline zafrogzen

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Re: Zazen technique question
« Reply #1 on: March 26, 2016, 08:37:59 pm »
The easiest way to start counting breaths is "one" on the inbreath, "two on the outbreath, "Three" on the inbreath, "four" on the outbreath, and so one up to ten, odd numbers in, even out. I usually start over when I'm interrupted by discursive thinking.

Keeping the eyes half open, with "soft" focus, and concentrating on the light coming in, or on a spot about three feet away, can be combined with the breath-counting for extra concentration.

I deal with breath-counting pretty thoroughly on my website in "Meditation basics." Scroll down to "Pranayama, Breath control." There are several ways of counting breaths, which are progressively more difficult.

Breath counting is just a preliminary used to calm the mind of excited, discursive thinking. Simply breathing in and out with awareness is taken up soon after that and then either shikantaza or koan contemplation.

Emphasizing and lengthening the outbreath is often employed in zazen, to let go and relax.

I don't think it's necessary to name or acknowledge a thought, that's adding another thought to it. Better to just let it go back where it came from (eventually "where" that is can be taken up as a koan).

Short sittings are good, but linking several such sittings together, with a period of walking meditation in between each one, can give the mind enough time to calm down and concentrate.

I would think that zazen would be good for anxiety, especially if you can become aware of what thoughts you entertain (if any) which tend to lead to the anxiety, and somehow let go of them before they snowball. Easy for me to say, I know.
My first formal meditation training was with Shunryu Suzuki in the 60's and later with Kobun, Robert Aitken and many other teachers (mainly zen). However, I've spent the most time practicing on my own, which is all I do now. I'm living in a rather isolated area so I miss connecting with other practitioners. Despite my interest in zen I've made an effort to remain secular. You can visit my website at

Offline Pixie

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Re: Zazen technique question
« Reply #2 on: March 28, 2016, 12:32:35 am »
Hi Shaggydog

Here are some Zazen instructions from Zen Mountain Monastery:

Good luck


May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May they all be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May they never be deprived of true happiness devoid of any suffering.
May they abide in great impartiality, free from attachment to loved ones and aversion to others.


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